Southeast Georgia anglers are talking about the comeback of the redbreast sunfish on the Satilla River, and much of that success comes from the ongoing removal of a different species of fish, the flathead catfish.
Historically, the Satilla River was a premier sunfish angling destination in Georgia, with redbreast sunfish one of the most sought-after species. In 1996, the presence of illegally introduced flathead catfish was first observed. During the mid-2000’s, anglers and fisheries biologists observed declines in the abundance of redbreast sunfish and bullhead catfish coinciding with significant increases in the flathead catfish population.
As early as 1996, staff with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division Fisheries Section began aggressive removal of flathead catfish in an effort to negate the impacts on native fish populations. However, despite these removal efforts, the number and size of flathead catfish continued to increase.
In 2006, the Georgia legislature appropriated funding for personnel assigned the task of reducing the flathead catfish population levels through direct removal while searching for a long-term population control.
In the seven years since implementation of the full time flathead management program, more than 102,891 pounds of flathead catfish (42,836 fish) have been removed from the Satilla River. Additionally, the size of removed flathead catfish has dropped every year.
“I would hate to see what the redbreast sunfish population would look like if the removal process for flatheads had not begun,” said Tim Bonvechio, senior fisheries biologist and leader of the flathead removal project. “And it is a great reward to hear about anglers reporting impressive stringers of large redbreast sunfish, including reports of some 10-inch ‘Roosters,’ caught in the heart of the flathead catfish removal area.”
The increase seen in redbreast sunfish is due to the reduction of flathead catfish in the river and water level. The river has been out in the floodplain all summer, so redbreasts have had ample foraging opportunities resulting in phenomenal survival and growth rates.
Fishing tips for panfish, such as redbreast sunfish, include using crickets suspended underneath a small float and targeting shoreline cover. Those anglers that can make pinpoint accurate casts can sling artificial lures in shady areas to pull out some true “rooster” redbreast sunfish. Some of the more effective artificial lures for these species include small spinnerbaits or small plastic beetle bodies, in-line spinners, and popping bugs.
For more information on fishing the Satilla River, visit www.georgiawildlife.com/Fishing/Satilla.